I'm M.C.A. Hogarth, author and artist. I write fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc), nonfiction (mostly about business and parenthood) and draw pictures, mostly of dragons, elves and people in beautiful clothes. I am also currently (as of July 2015) serving as the Vice President of SFWA. Below you can see some of what I'm doing currently, and check up on my status.

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     The Nebula Awards Weekend 2016
     Worldcon 2016

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Serial, Kherishdar's Exception, Episode 6: The Letter

Kherishdar"s Exception, by M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 6: The Letter

      There was no reading it at home. We lived in a big house, but not so big that there wasn’t always someone underfoot. And I, particularly, attracted attention; everyone wanted to make me feel welcome, as if being rakadhas was some sickness that required convalescence and the subsequent attention of doting nurses. And… maybe it was. In a way. But I didn’t feel sick and I hated feeling smothered, and worse, hated feeling like I couldn’t be irritated with any of them. They were being solicitous; they were checking up on me. They were expressing compassion and familial sentiment. It wasn’t their fault I was no longer used to being a member of a family and was having trouble remembering how to fit in to one.
      I didn’t go back, then. I left Thirukedi’s residence and passed into the administrative ring of the capital, and that’s where I stopped. The parks would have been more private. More intimate. But I wanted to read this aunerai’s letter in the afternoon shadow of Utraenith’s Regal Household, an edifice that looks like one of your palaces. I read it on a bench in the plaza in front of that building, with trees draping thin, cool shadows over my neck and the spring breeze bringing me the scent of warm soil. I read it surrounded by the symbols of Ai-Naidari power, because I didn’t think I could bring myself to read it at all alone.
      So I was angry when I read it, because realizing that was upsetting.
      Even angry, though, I could admit to it being amazing.
      She had written out our letters across the top of the too-slick, too-thin paper, and under them, aunerai equivalents. In some cases, there were multiple aunerai equivalents, which confused me: the same letter under our ‘ah’ sound and our ‘aa’ sound and our ‘ae’ sound, and it made me wonder how you knew which to write. Memorization, probably. But the real treasure was beneath that line of carefully printed letters, because she had translated her own letter and left that translation transparent. My eyes glided over that first, because the revelation of it, of that glimpse into a completely foreign mind, was shocking and enticing.
      But soon I forgot the translation, and was reading.


      Among us, we often start our letters with more familiarity. But I know this would not be welcome to you. And I’m not sure whether to begin with an apology or with thanks, because you were kind to us after the incident at the Gate, and all the way to the capital… but… we took your love from you, and after treating you like a… a curiosity. Something to be understood, rather than a person to be empathized with.
      You don’t know what it’s like to look at that phrase and realize how many ways I could say it in your language. You have so many words for the work of emotional connection. I feel impoverished. And yet I am rich, because I love an Ai-Naidari, and he has condescended, in his greatness of heart, to love me in return. And Andrew as well, who needed it so much more than I did.
      I know that hearing it must bring you pain. But you never seemed the sort to turn from pain when it also turned you from truth.
      I wish I could be there to help you with our tongue. Our tongues—did you know we have more than one? Over two thousand, in fact, enough that some of them have died when their speakers have dwindled and been forgotten or engulfed by other populations. The one we speak on the colony world is versatile and, I think, fascinating. Finding the congruencies between it and your language has been one of the greatest joys of my career, and my career has been my life. You-the-Ai-Naidar would understand. This is my
ishas, and never have I been able to fulfill it the way I have on your colony world, among true aliens.
      But in my absence, I will offer what remains. Show this letter to Ruben Falzon; he’s now the administrator of the colony. Tell him to give you access to my office and all my files. Some of those will be on exposed devices that you won’t be able to take with you across the Gate, but I like to write on paper while working out a language’s syntax, so there will be notebooks as well. Those are in the desk drawer on the right unless someone’s moved them.
      Ruben is a good man. He’ll help you. You might also talk to Emma—she was Ajan’s principal surgeon. Laurence… be careful of Laurence but… I know I have no right to ask, but please, take care of him for me.

      I never meant to hurt you. Or anyone. I know I shouldn’t worry for you because Kherishdar takes care of everyone, but… I pray for you, still, that you will find your peace and the place that suits your soul. And if the notes I’ve left behind help the Ai-Naidar and humanity to avoid the pain we’ve all suffered, then… maybe I’ll be able to make my peace with what happened, too. Such peace does not come easily to us. It’s one of the things I envy about you. You are all so fortunate. I can’t even say.

           With best wishes,

           Lenore Serapis

      No, aunera, I didn’t rip this letter to shreds. The impulse, though, was there. I managed to stay seated for all of a few heartbeats, heartbeats I counted because the tremor in my hands made the paper flutter. I carefully folded it and put it in the envelope with my pass, and that I tucked into my sash’s inside pocket, because I didn’t trust it in the hands that were trying to clench into fists.
      I left for the gardens, where my walk would at least take place mostly in the shade, and I strode until my outrage settled enough for me to examine all the emotions hiding underneath. Feeling those like broken shards (toril, remember—do you?), like bits of glass I could see cruel truths through, set me off again, in no clear direction except ‘not here.’
This time I walked until evening fell. The only reason I turned back was because my toes were developing blisters in the boots the Exception had noticed with her too-clear sight. I hated the idea that one single letter had driven me to the point of ignoring my own body like the most callow of fathriked. All my agitation was writ on my body, as if I was a calligraphy Farren could have drawn with a pen. If Nesthae had seen me in this moment, she could have looked from my face to my feet and had all the proof any Ai-Naidari could wish that she was right.
      Haraa nai’Qevellen-osulkedi. Who wore her new caste as poorly as she wore her new clothes.
      I went back in a foul mood, ears flat and shoulders tense, hoping to slip in through the front door while everyone was scattered to their favorite spots for the after-dinner family time. Instead, I stepped into the house and Ajan stopped, caught in the act of passing through the open foyer. Seeing me, he cocked my head. “How now, Haraa?” he asked. “You have storms in your eyes to match your pelt.”
      He said it in an impish way so unlike Thirukedi’s intonation that I blurted out an answer. “My feet hurt.”
      I don’t know what I was expecting. A lecture. Another goddess-damned metaphor. Concern. Leading questions. All he said was, “Don’t worry about it. It takes a while to break in new shoes.” He twitched his head toward the hall. “Coming to the dareleni?”
      And just like that... I was all right. “Yes. Just let me snitch something from the kitchen.”
      He grinned. “Bring us something too. I think Farren missed dinner. Again.”


Um, a couple of you pointed out that according to the Patreon I should only be posting once a week?? That seems crazy. I should probably follow my own milestones, though, Because Bills, but... seriously. Once a week? o_o

Anyway, thank you Patreon patrons, random donating people, and commenters!


Conversations in Traffic

Me: Seriously? All the music you like is candysynth. Aren't you a musician?
Jahir: I like music.
Me: Fine, but... all 80's, all the time?
Jahir: I like happy music.
Me: *eyes playlist* Oh, come on. "Doctor, Doctor" by the Thompson Twins?
Jahir: *demure* It seemed appropriate?
Me: *eyeing him* That look.
Jahir: *still demure* *eyes sparkling*
Me: Argh! How can you deliver these lines! Without even talking! You are the straightest straight man in the book!
Lisinthir: Except for the part where he's not straight?
Vasiht'h: Actually, he is straight. You just bent him a little.
Sediryl: Vulpix found a candy.
Sediryl: Oh, Vulpix looks like my dog! But miniature.
Lisinthir: Yes, you should probably pay attention.

Ugh, I am so mental. *facepalm*

Have you seen the Dreamhealers playlist? Candysynth. All the way.
  • Current Mood: resigned
  • Current Music: Thompson Twins - Doctor, Doctor

Advise the Impending Birthday Jaguar!

By nature I'm a homebody sort, and prefer the pleasures of routine and consistency and all that stuff most people handwave as humdrum but I find relaxing. But I am aware this creates a mental rut, and as I get older, it becomes easier to stay in it. I've taken to using my birthday as an excuse to break out of that, usually by learning or doing something I haven't before. Birthday gifts to myself are how I've taken my first horseback riding lesson, learned to fence, tried aikido and various forms of dance.

There aren't many rules for how I pick these experiences. Vaguely, Rule #1 is 'it's got to be something you normally wouldn't do, and that makes you feel like you're pushing against some internal reticence.' Rule #2 is 'you don't have to make a habit of it if you don't like it or it's too expensive.' And Rule #3 is 'try not to make it be an activity you could turn into income generating stuff.' (Because otherwise I'm not really learning something new, I'm just adding a new branch to an existing thing I know how to do, which is how to sell forms of art for money).

I'm kicking around some ideas now about what I'd like to learn this year, since my birthday is Sunday. (What? When did October get this close??) But, of course, I am limited by my own imagination and the point of this exercise is that my imagination is limited! So what would you suggest I learn or try? :)
  • Current Mood: curious curious

Serial, Kherishdar's Exception, Episode 5: Broken Tool

Kherishdar"s Exception, by M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 5: Broken Tool

      It’s a given that all Ai-Naidar love Thirukedi. Farren wouldn’t tell you this aphorism, because it is old and more in keeping with Kor’s way of looking at reality, but we say that your reaction to Him reveals how you respond to love. I think that’s naïve. Thirukedi’s presence in our lives is more than the revelation of love. It’s also a gift, a gift intangible and irreplaceable and awe-inspiring and precious.
      Or maybe this is something I told myself to make peace with the complexity of my feelings every time I saw Him.
      This time He was waiting in a garden. The seat of Civilization has many of them, and Thirukedi is known for His talent for flower arrangement, so the setting was no surprise. But I had never seen Him outside. He was seated on a bench, in a way that suggested immobility because His robes were so heavily layered that they fell in statuesque folds whenever He stopped moving. Beside Him was a shallow basket, an in it a single tinsel leaf.
      Something about that leaf drew my eye at the time. But the scene overwhelmed me, because here was Civilization amid Nature, where He had no jurisdiction: the one place the man who never rested could rest, if only He could set down His mantle.
      I was relieved that it was for me to kneel and rest my brow on the ground. I preferred that to showing Him my face and forcing Him to acknowledge whatever I was failing to hide in my eyes. I closed them too, just to be sure, and inhaled the sun-warmed scent of soil and grass. Have you noticed that, aunera? That soil smells different during the day than it does at night when it is cool and damp?
      “Rise, my osulkedi,” He said, and reminded me with the title of my encounter on the steps. That would certainly be why He paused. “How now, Haraa? What has disturbed your peace?”
      I schooled my face, but there was no schooling my eyes. There never had been; given their eloquence, my training had emphasized their use, not their concealment. I was the bold one. It was in that spirit that I let Him see my passions—good and bad. “I met the Exception on the way in.”
      “Ah,” He said, more gently. And maybe with a little whimsy. “She did not charm you.”
      “She was insulting,” I said, ears flattening. “I know the Exception is necessary, but there was no call for her to be rude.”
      The wind passed gentle fingers over His hair so that the sun could find the pale gold shimmer in its ends. “The unexpected is by its nature different. And thus, threatening. How otherwise? You might pity her, for that her role often requires her to be frightening.”
      “She didn’t frighten me. She annoyed me.” I looked away, forcing composure. “My apologies, Thirukedi. I don’t mean to disturb Your harmony.” I folded my hands on my lap. “I came to request a permit for Gate travel so that I might begin the work of my ishas.”
      Thirukedi lifted a hand with that perfect deliberation that made every motion of His sleeve grace itself. Summoning a Servant, for I heard the whisper of slippers on the paving stones behind me. “Bring me Haraa’s packet, please,” He said to the woman who bowed to Him. I envied her the ease in her body. I still didn’t feel like I belonged where I was, not yet. But that was what I was here to fix. After she’d left, He said, “It is earlier than I thought, menuredi. You need not rush into your duties.”
      “Forgive me,” I said, eyes on His feet and the rolled silk hem that spread over them. “But I have been idle too long, Thirukedi. I won’t ever feel right until I’m at work again.” I lifted my eyes. “You said this work would suit my soul. I must see that you are correct.”
      …and I hoped, very dearly, that He was, and wondered what was wrong with me that I could doubt.
      “Very well,” He said.
      I would like to say that I passed the ensuing moments in peace, waiting with the Emperor in the warm spring sunlight. But what I felt was a restlessness that made me hate the Exception for noticing my boots. I wanted to be doing something, and this intermediary stage didn’t feel like a peaceful interlude during which I could gather strength or find deep meaning in the liminal spaces between momentous events in my life. If I’d been anyone else… maybe. But I was in no mood for contemplation. I never was. To me, living was an act. Thinking was a tool, that was all—and often a broken one, besides.
      At length, the Servant returned, and brought with her a parchment envelope. This Thirukedi handed to me. The texture was silky, with just enough drag to make me want to caress it, and my thumb did keep rubbing the flap as I looked at the contents. The pass to the colony world, that was expected. It was the other paper that I found puzzling. Unlike the envelope, it was slick, frictionless. I wondered what Farren would have made of it. Unfolding it I found… a letter. In Ai-Naidari.
      And the human tongue.
      “Lenore Serapis left it for you,” Thirukedi said, quiet. “When I told her the task I had set you to.”
      My ears trembled, but I forced them to remain straight. “I will read it. Thank you, Thirukedi. Is there any reason I should delay in my duty?”
      “No. You may cross whenever you are ready, menuredi. Come back to me with your observations when you return, however. I would like to see you.”
      “Yes,” I said, head bowed. “Thank you.”
      “Go on, then, Haraa.” Gentle, the words. His tenderness made my skin flush. “And make use of your family. They are there for that purpose.”
      “I will.”
      I left Him and thought no more of how I’d found Him in the garden, with that one lonely plant in a basket meant for dozens. In retrospect that moment was the beginning, though it wasn’t until later that I began to ask the questions that would change me forever. Much, much later. I was consumed with the letter I was carrying.
      Didn’t I say that thinking is a broken tool? Such a useful distraction, thinking. Sometimes I think all our self-discipline is an illusion.
      Lenore Serapis had written me a letter.


*wiggles brows* Don't you want to know what it says. :D

Thank you Patreon patrons, random donating people, and commenters! Comments are especially fun... as usual, you all are interacting with each other in fascinating ways. Haraa is listening!


Peltedverse Coloring Pages!

As in, the Etsy store now has them! If you contribute to my Patreon, you already have access to these. Don't buy them again! Unless you really want to! But for those of you who aren't on Patreon and want these, either to color or just for the data/model sheet aspect, there's a batch up there.

Also, there are pendants left. Shocking! O_O

There's probably at least one coupon active right now? Maybe AMGWHAT...? Dunno, try it. :)
  • Current Mood: bleary

Serial, Kherishdar's Exception, Episode 4: Outrageous

Kherishdar"s Exception, by M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 4: Outrageous

     Slipping out of Qevellen was easy for many reasons. The foremost was that it’s not yet full of children, so no one’s employing any of the ways adults contrive to keep them corralled. That would change, given Farren’s determination: bells on the doors, little half-height gates, chiming curtains. But it’s also easy because it’s such an open house. Kor mentioned it was constructed for the First Servant of Shame, presumably to his specifications, so that might account for its eccentricities... except that given the kind of personality attracted to Shame’s priesthood I would have expected the First Servant to have wanted a cave, not this temple to open spaces and garden views.
      That’s how I escaped: by taking one of the ubiquitous garden paths entirely around the building and to the gate. I had never seen a house this size on such an enormous plot... only in the Temple District would it have been possible, and only in an old house, built when mores were different. Gardens are supposed to be public amenities. I can’t remember the last time I saw a large one that was also gated.
      We were an odd house, and an odd House. Farren has told you those are separate words? Gadare is the building. Eqet is the group of family members. It’s important that you think a little like us, aunera, if you’re to find this story bearable—or even explicable. So remember this, the whimsicality of Qevellen. A House with eight males and one female. What was Thirukedi thinking?
      Maybe I would ask Him.
      I was going there now—to see Him. Walking to center. We say vaesha. To move toward Him, or more abstractly toward civility, or peace, or harmony with others. He had made me osulkedi, and that made Him my lord. Strange thought. Perilous one, after how I’d fallen out with my last lord. At least, I thought, I would not be likely to fall torridly in love with Thirukedi. A woman might like her lovers older than her, but there are limits.
      Surely Qenain had broken me, to have left me with such ideas.
      There are fathriked who find the outdoors distressing. I was never one of them. The spring sunlight on my head, warming the curls that brushed alongside my neck and cheeks... that felt good. The piquancy of late spring flowers gave the air some needed spice, particularly in the Temple district where the breezes carried the powdery, sweet smell of incense. The busyness of it, even here, where there were fewer residences: I loved it. Kherishdar has a rhythm, and I now played a different part of the pattern. I found it invigorating, experiencing those differences. To have been rakadhas, thrust from the caste that had defined me almost all my life, had been painful. But now that I’d been ejected from the process of re-evaluation, I found acclimating to my new state stimulating.
      I digress. You would too, walking through the graciousness of late spring, in the blossom-strewn byways of Kherishdar.
      Farren told you perhaps that the city is separated into wedges—the atan—and that’s true. That’s how we know which Regal Household is responsible for which segment of the city. But the city itself is built in rings, and to walk toward center from the Temple District, one goes through the public parks and plazas devoted to the Trysts, and afterwards into the administrative ring with the great Regal Households, and finally, the point at the center, where Thirukedi dwells. But the parks were an unsettling reminder of the forthcoming Summer Tryst, so I might perhaps be forgiven for being preoccupied when I ascended the steps to Thirukedi’s residence, and there nearly collided with another woman. She was gray-pelted, like me, but a watery color, one that darkened toward the tips of her hair and her ears, like she’d been left in the rain. Even her eyes were a wan yellow, like a piece of amber that had clouded over. I would have found her insipid except she met my gaze with a shocking directness and laughed at the sight of me, and I knew then who she was. Who she could only be.
      “Oh! The Emperor’s newest osulkedi. What a pretty girl you are!” Had I thought her eyes mild? When she leaned toward me I found them bright enough. Sultry, even. I was so busy with them I didn’t see the tap under my chin coming. “How do you like it so far? Or should you have stayed in your first caste, Decoration? You’re certainly decorative enough.”
      I jerked away, offended.
      “Oh, she has opinions, at least!” The woman chuckled. “Good for you, pretty girl.”
      “My name,” I said from between bared teeth, “is Haraa nai’Qevellen-osulkedi, and I don’t care if you’re the Exception. Don’t call me ‘pretty girl.’”
      “Oooh, she figured me out.” A sly grin, as if we were sharing a secret. “Very good! You’re as smart as you look. People rarely are. It’s very disappointing.”
      The nakked at the door weren’t staring at her. I don’t know how. I would have to ask Ajan or Vekken how that worked. How you trained a Guardian not to be outraged by the one Ai-Naidari in all the empire who was allowed to be this offensive.
      “Anyway,” she said. “I’m on my way. Have fun with your master, pretty girl.”
      “He’s your master too,” I growled. “And my name—”
      “—is Haraa, I know, you’ve told me,” she said dismissively. “But I don’t have to call you that. And honestly, you haven’t earned it from me.” More serious, her eyes abruptly grave, almost angry. “Everyone has to earn everything from me, little osulkedi.” Traipsing down the steps now, as lightly as a maiden. “And no man is my master, nor woman either! How lucky I am, am I not, to be so free? I bet you envy me.”
      Shocked, I exclaimed, “I do not!”
      She flung a grin over her shoulder at me. “Why the boots, then, pretty girl? Where do you wish you were going? Far, far away...” She laughed. “Good luck with that. You live here, and trapped, and always will.” And then she passed down the path, back toward the gates.
      Have you ever been angry enough to want to kick something? Goddess, aunera. How she infuriated me! And it was in this mood that I passed into the halls of Thirukedi’s personal temple, trailing my own incense of pique and offense. I wasn’t proud of it, but I had never met the Exception. I’d somehow thought of her as a sad and distant figure, not someone who could flirt at me with her eyes while mocking me with her words.
      It was petty of me, but I thought, as a Servant led me to Him, that at least my pelt and eyes didn’t look like someone had diluted them with too much water.


It is called Kherishdar's Exception, after all... did you think she wouldn't show up!

We are up to $624! Whoot! Thank you Patreon patrons, random donating people, and commenters! *bounces*


RIP Age of Blogging...?

I am reading another Nicholas Carr book (entitled, catchily, Utopia is Creepy), and as usual he says many scary, trenchant, and thoughtful things about the effects of technology on individuals and society, and if you haven't read Carr what are you waiting for?

But anyway. In the introduction he talks about how the age of blogging has passed, and this combined in my head with a couple of interactions I've had recently where people have asked me whether they should bother to start a blog, or I've read people asking if it's worth the trouble on writer forums.

This has made me curious. I don't think of blogging as dead, though I'm sure at this point people will point at the decline of Livejournal as obvious proof. I'm curious what you all think. Is blogging an anachronism? Do you still read blogs? Write them? What's replaced them for you?

  • Current Mood: curious curious
  • Current Music: Utada - This is Love

Serial, Kherishdar's Exception, Episode 3: Pride

Kherishdar"s Exception, by M.C.A. Hogarth

Part 1: LEJZA (The Trysts)
Chapter 1
Episode 3: Pride

      We were not two months into Qevellen’s creation when Kor found me and said, “If you would not have yourself married, Haraa, I suggest you find some significant pastime outside this House and away from Farren’s sight.”
      It was late spring, and the garden in our new house was in full flower. In the years to come, it would be manicured and tamed... but no one had had time to devote to it yet, and I loved its wildness. The bench I’d chosen was shrouded in the fern-like sprays of cloudsbreath and encircled on one side in brightsheaves, the lilies that the first head of Qenain had brought to the Emperor so long ago. My mind was on her, and Qenain’s former lord... inevitably, given how little time had gone past since he’d been my life. But Kor could not have chosen a better way to shatter my reverie. “Excuse me?”
      “Our head of household,” Kor said, sitting on the bench facing mine across the path, “is very enthusiastic about fulfilling his responsibilities... and the Summer Tryst is approaching. Right now he is very involved with my former Guardians, but now that the matchmaking fever is on him I doubt you will be exempt from his efforts.”
      Yes, there’s a word for that. Emma tells me that I shouldn’t stint on teaching them, and this one might interest, so here it is: theqilare. Not ‘match-make,’ but ‘grasp the pattern of generations.’ We feel very strongly about the importance of theqilare, which is why it would be pointless to try to discourage Farren from his efforts. Besides, I knew a little of him by then, enough to have seen that he was far, far more stubborn than his azjelin. One wouldn’t think it, to contrast Kor’s stern demeanor with Farren’s gentleness. But Farren clung far harder to decisions and ideas, and goddess help anyone who tried to pry his fingers loose.
      “Unless, of course, you are busy,” Kor said mildly when I didn’t answer.
      I raised my eyes to regard him, and this he allowed, as he always did, with supreme self-assurance: Kherishdar’s only priest of Shame, for even among us there are singular powers and he was heir to one of those few mantles. He had always worn his power easily, but having found both ajzelin and lover, he had grown into something somehow harder to live with—and easier. He had been terrifying for his clarity of thought and uncanny insight into the Ai-Naidari heart, and for the fact that you knew, just looking at him, that there was no impediment between the exercise of that talent and your own soul. Now that he was happy and that happiness distracted you from who he was, you sometimes forgot he was also Shame, until he surprised you with some painfully astute observation... like he was now about my idleness, and its probable cause.
      “I suppose it would be useless to deny that I don’t want a husband right now,” I said. “So I won’t. And I’m guessing I am not showing some secret sign of an error that could be Corrected by the application of a spouse, or you wouldn’t be warning me. Yes?”
      His mouth twitched. “It is a great pleasure to be known so well, qirini.”
      ‘Sister,’ that means. I hadn’t heard it from him before and was surprised to find it flattering. “I thank you for telling me, then. Are you heeding your own warning yourself?”
      He chuckled. “Shame is always busy.”
      “Not too busy for a spouse,” I pointed out. “After all, Shame now has time for a lover and an ajzelin.”
      “A lover and an ajzelin are more than enough,” Shame said, and it was Shame speaking now... something about the way his words felt like statements of fact, rather than opinions. An implacability. And, as always, I couldn’t hear it without trying to needle him.
      “And your duty to the generations?”
      “Fulfilled, I hope, by the Winter Tryst,” he said. “Which I have attended since I have been of age.” He lifted a brow. “And you have not. Does it concern you?”
      “The prospect of it?” I shook my head. “I’ve certainly had more lovers than you. A few more, anonymous or not, won’t trouble me.”
      “I didn’t imagine it would,” he said. “But the Tryst is not about taking a lover.”
      I eyed him and folded my arms, the silk of my sleeves hissing over my lap. “Don’t you start, osulkedi.”
      He laughed then, rising. He had a good laugh. It made him more approachable. “Ah, Haraa. How can I, when I have never stopped?” Canting his head, he finished, “Your ishas, no less than mine, can and perhaps should be executed elsewhere.”
      I thought of the Gate-town. “I know.”
      “Will you require escort? Ajan, or one of the others.”
      I smiled at that. “You’d spare me Ajan?”
      “Of course.”
      But something in his eyes, which were too amused: “Because you know I won’t take him.”
      He chuckled softly. “I offered because if you had wanted him, you would have needed him, and I would have given him to you gladly.”
      “But you did know I wouldn’t,” I pressed.
      He smiled at that. “Say rather that I suspected.” At my skeptical look he laughed again. “You are not always easy to predict, Haraa. It’s… refreshing.”
      “For Shame, who knows all,” I said boldly. Because if he had called me sister, I could tease him. “I would have thought it would irritate you.”
      “If it does, I’ll let you know.”
      “Qirini,” I said, tasting the sobriquet.
      It was still flattering on consideration. I flicked my ears back casually to hide their tint. “I’ll give your warning all due consideration.” And, smiling too, “If I can do my part to protect you from Farren’s fervor, I will. Because, apparently, an ajzelin and a lover is more than enough work without adding a wife to the mix, for Kherishdar’s sole Shame.”
      He snorted. “Enjoy the day, Haraa.”
      The garden was still beautiful after he left. Maybe more so, for having had him in it to stress the contrasts. He was dark and austere and had an abruptness to his motions that would have given my deportment teachers attacks. Not because he was without grace, but because he managed to have it without the stately finish they taught all fathriked. The memory of it made the sway of the brightsheaves look more genteel, and the garden patches looked wilder for their lack of constraint. Farren might have found the juxtaposition arresting. I found it funny. I was, in fact, smiling.
      Well, that, and twitching, fingers grasping the edge of the bench. The last thing I wanted was a husband. Shemena forfend.
      I rose from the bench, feeling that I had lingered too long in my idleness. Thirukedi had elevated me and given me a task, and in His kindness allowed me time to linger over the absolute disaster that had been my relationship with Jaran, the lord of Qenain now exiled. I still hurt, but I had been studiously ignoring the fact that I would never stop hurting unless I gave myself something to do that didn’t involve the endless examination of those last weeks and what I might have done to change things.
      That I’d been avoiding my duty because doing it would remind me of him… well. I was done with letting ij Qenain have power over me. He had chosen the aunera over me. Over all of Kherishdar. I was proud enough to find that mortifying, and pride can galvanize you into motion and keep you there, when you might otherwise find yourself faltering.


We begin the story proper. Hello, Haraa! You are not at all like Farren!

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